PC Gaming 101: Part 6: Cases

PC gaming is quite big in India. As games become more intense and compelling, gamers find themselves wanting the latest and greatest hardware to run these games smoothly. That being said, the majority of gamers wanting to build or upgrade their machines don’t have much of a clue, and are often at the mercy of vendors and salesmen, due to which, more often than not, they end up making the wrong decisions. This is an attempt to address this lack of information, and help all PC gamers make the best of their resources. This is PC GAMING 101.

Getting the right case or cabinet for your gaming PC is an unnecessarily complicated thing to do. The way computer cases are classified has changed over time. Once upon a time, it depended upon how many 5.25 inch bays the case had. Then, the classification was based on the overall height of the case. These days, those classifications are like guidelines as opposed to actual standards. The traditional size categories are shown below: 

Source: Tom's Hardware

Source: Tom’s Hardware

Full Towers are like the SUVs of the computer case world. They can have 5 or more 5.25 inch external drive bays, they range in height from 22 to 27 inches and they always support full size ATX, almost always support EATX, and at times even the not-so-standard XL-ATX as well. The funny thing about full towers is that apart from accepting more drive expansion, providing better cooling for hot running, inefficient setups like running 4-way graphics configurations, and having extra space for superfluous stuff like custom liquid cooling loops, they don't bring much to the table in terms of performance over Mid Tower cases. But they do tend to be easier to work with if you've got big hands, and the top bays are easier to reach when the case is sitting on your floor. All in all, Full Tower cases are more like luxury items than must-haves.

Mid Towers are the most common cases for custom builders, have 3 to 4 external expansion bays, stand 17 to 21 inches tall, and almost always hold a full size ATX motherboard. But, they don't have a lot of extra space for drives and what not. Expect to find 6 to 8 Hard Drive mounts in a typical Mid Tower, and enough cooling and space to comfortably handle 2 graphics cards in crossfire/SLI.  

Computer Case form factors- Full Tower (Extreme right) Small Form Factor (Center), Horizontal Desktop (Bottom Center), Mid Tower (Extreme Left)

Computer Case form factors- Full Tower (Extreme right) Small Form Factor (Center), Horizontal Desktop (Bottom Center), Mid Tower (Extreme Left)

Mini Towers are a great compromise between size and expansion. They have 1 or 2 external bays, stand 14 to 16 inches tall, and can host an mATX motherboard usually. They are nearly as versatile as mid-towers in applications ranging from office workhorses to high-end liquid-cooled SLI-powered gaming monsters because of their less-imposing profile and easier transportability. Most Mini Towers are suitable for use with only a single graphics card with adequate cooling while some may be okay for two. 

Anything taller than 27 inches is called a Super/Ultra Tower , and a case whose size can be modified by stacking components on top of each other, for, say, cooling options or drive mounting, is called a Mod Tower. Desktop or Horizontal desktop cases are not exactly towers, they are slightly different, and they used to be the dominant case size once upon a time but now they are more of a niche, and they come in various sizes, from tiny ones that are so small they need an external power brick, to huge ones that can hold server class motherboards and large RAID arrays of hard drives. 

Small Form Factor or SFF can come in almost any shape, from cubes to equal sided desktops to normal towers, but the one thing that they generally have in common is the support for a mini ITX motherboard max, with minimal drive mounting options and only sometimes support a graphics card, only one of them max. Cube Cases are called so, because of their roughly cubical size, and are available in a wide variety of configurations. 

There's other stuff out there, but these are the main form factors available today. 

Prev>> Part 5: Gaming Monitors

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PC Gaming 101: Part 5: Gaming Monitor Buyer's guide

PC gaming is quite big in India. As games become more intense and compelling, gamers find themselves wanting the latest and greatest hardware to run these games smoothly. That being said, the majority of gamers wanting to build or upgrade their machines don’t have much of a clue, and are often at the mercy of vendors and salesmen, due to which, more often than not, they end up making the wrong decisions. This is an attempt to address this lack of information, and help all PC gamers make the best of their resources. This is PC GAMING 101.

 

If you own and regularly use a PC, you know what a minitor is. However, when it comes to gaming, not all monitors are built equally. So, what makes a monitor "good for gaming" ? (Well for starters it should connect to a device that runs videogames.) Let's have a look at the things you should look out for, while choosing a monitor for your gaming setup: 

1. Inputs 

 

Most gaming monitors these days have DisplayPort, HDMI and DVI input ports, or a combination of the three. (You can read more about display technologies and standards in Part 4, here). If you're gaming on a PC, and you want to keep things as simple as possible, you should go with DVI and DisplayPort with confidence. HDMI will work fine, unless you want the resolution to be higher than 1080P, or a refresh rate over 60Hz. HDMI 2.0 is coming out soon to address these issues. Not that HDMI inputs are totally useless though, you can use them to connect secondary gaming devices such as gaming consoles and switch between your devices as you choose. 

2. Size Matters 

Yes, a monitor's size does matter, but not for the reasons most people think it does. A larger monitor just puts a larger image in front of you, and isn't any more difficult for your graphics card to power. So you should pick a size that's comfortable for you, for the distance you want to sit from it. The spec that determines how hard it is to power the monitor, is the resolution. A 24 inch 4K monitor will be about 4 times more difficult to drive than even an 80 inch 1080P "Full HD" TV, because of the sheer number of pixels. Higher resolution monitors deliver a clearer, more "retina-like" display so resolution isn't a problem, in and of itself. It's just a factor you need to consider in your overall build/upgrade budget. 

Now that we've gone through the basics of monitors and displays, let's look at what makes a monitor "good for gaming". 

Response Time  

The rendering process of pixels on an LCD/LED display is very different from the old, tube style CRT monitors, and when the image updates, the pixels gradually shift from one colour to another. So, the slower the pixels of the monitor, the more "motion blur" or ugly streaking that you'll see behind moving objects on the screen. 

So, while buying a monitor for gaming, look for a monitor with a "Grey to Grey" response time of

8-16 milliseconds for  casual use

1-2 ms for competitive use.  

Refresh Rate 

60Hz versus 144 Hz

Expressed in Hertz, the refresh rate is the number of times an image is sent to the display, every second. If your eyes are getting more updates per second, you're getting information slightly faster than your opponent. It's a definite advantage, and the fastest monitors these days can run at upto 144 Hz, at 1080P. That means you can get screen updates upto 10 milliseconds faster than your opponent using a 60 Hz display. 

Input Lag

Now, this is a spec that most manufacturerd don't report, but is really quite important. When the CPU sends signals to the monitor, the monotor needs to translate that information into a format that the panel can understand. This processing introduces a delay which means that you could be seeing an individial frame that is anywhere from a few milliseconds later than it was output by your graphics card, all the way upto 50 milliseconds later, or more. For competitive use, look for a monitor that has an input lag of less than 10 milliseconds. But don't just take the manufacturer's word for it, LCD manufacturers are notorious for inventing completely new specifications to suit their marketing purposes. So, be sure to check out sites like Blur Busters to get the latest info and specs on gaming displays. 

Other Features

Apart from the factirs mentioned above, there are other factors to look out for as well, such as 

Now, if this guide raised more questions than it answered, or you'd just like to go hands-on and choose which specs matter for you, just check out online forums, they might really help out. 

Prev>> Part 4: Display Technologies

Next>>Part 6: Computer Cases

 

PC Gaming 101: Part 1: Initial Configuration and the PSU

PC gaming is quite big in India. As games become more intense and compelling, gamers find themselves wanting the latest and greatest hardware to run these games smoothly. That being said, the majority of gamers wanting to build or upgrade their machines don’t have much of a clue, and are often at the mercy of vendors and salesmen, due to which, more often than not, they end up making the wrong decisions. This is an attempt to address this lack of information, and help all PC gamers make the best of their resources. This is PC GAMING 101.

 

 

If you’re a PC gamer, you’ve most probably heard the term “GPU”. Commonly called “graphics cards” here in India, every gamer wants the best GPU they can get. But, with a lot of buzzwords and marketing fluff being thrown about these days, it’s easy to get totally confused and lose your way. Here are the things a person wanting to buy a GPU must remember to make the best and most informed choice:

 

Know your PC Configuration

When looking to upgrade your PC, it is absolutely essential to know the specifications and configuration of your PC.  This is a seemingly obvious but often overlooked step.  With some amount of looking up, one should be able to find out specifications like the model number of the motherboard, amount and type of RAM, existing cooling system (cooling fans etc) and the CPU cabinet. However, one of the most important things that must not be overlooked is the Power Supply Unit, or PSU.

The PSU

The power supply unit is the component of the PC which converts the power from the outlet, into usable power that drives all the different parts inside the computer. From a PC gamer’s point of view, what’s important is knowing the power rating. The power rating is mentioned on the PSU itself, and one just needs to open the CPU cabinet to take a look at it. The PSU looks like this:

psu_1280

 

And the voltage ratings can be found on the sticker on one side:

psuSticker

 

The different columns under “voltage” are called “rails”, and one must note the power output for each rail along with the maximum power output. Why this matters is, GPUs generally have certain voltage requirements, which if aren't met, might cause serious issues, malfunctioning or may lead to the system not working at all. “Knowing the power supply requirements is essential. I had my graphics card lying idle for a year because it needed a better power supply” says Kartik Iyer, an avid PC gamer.

So be sure to check if the wattage of your PSU matches the recommended PSU wattage specified by the vendor. (Note: the recommended wattage is for the entire system and not just the GPU, so be sure to calculate the power requirement of the whole system) .

Here’s a handy tool that will help you to calculate the total power requirements for your system.

Stay tuned for part 2, where we'll talk about getting the right GPU for your usage.

(Logo Credits: Jui Pandya)

Next>> Part 2: Knowing What You Want